Sowetan’s “Pupil beats cancer to blow whistle” (20/07/2015, p. 1-7) by Thulani Mbele deserves a GLAD.1 The article ticks all the boxes of what Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) defines as the best example of good practice when reporting on children.

The article is about 15-year-old Fezile Hlophe who did not succumb to throat cancer and remained positive and upbeat throughout his illness. Throughout the article, Fezile is portrayed as a survivor who has beaten all odds to pursue his dreams of being a soccer referee. This story significantly proves how resilient young people can be. He is quoted as saying, “I never felt sorry for myself and just saw the illness as a challenge.”

This article also illustrates that young people can be positive role models that other children and young people can not only emulate but also identify with. The editorial piece published in the same edition titled “Follow your dream” (21/07/2015, p.12) also proves this point. The editorial piece tells the readers how they should take a leaf out of Fezile’s book and work hard and persevere. In Sowetan’s words, Fezile is “an example of the spirit of resilience and positivity many young people could emulate.”

MMA also commends Sowetan for recognising this story as the most significant and worthwhile story to lead with.

Front page stories by nature are usually alluring but most commonly negative. It is therefore refreshing to see a positive story about a child on the front- page.

Sowetan’s decision to place the story on the front page confers greater importance to it as it places it as a prominent topic/subject that its readers most need to know about. This was also evident in their editorial piece.

Typically, stories about children, especially positive ones rarely make the front page. One usually finds these kinds of stories in other and oftentimes less prominent sections of the newspaper.

Oftentimes we see negative stories about children in the media. It is positive stories such as this one that help to counterbalance the negative coverage that children often get in the media.2

Such reporting also does a lot to challenge attitudes or stereotypes that commonly portray children and young people as “helpless, passive victims” or “lost-generation.”

In addition, “Sports” as a topic is often not prominent when it comes to children’s stories.3 This can be detrimental to how children are seen. For example, children often feature in negative topics such as crime, war, rape, diseases, disasters and so forth.

While children are often fall victim to the effects of crime, war and disasters, the media needs to show children in their diversity. Roles such as sports players, achievers, winners, survivors should also be reflected in news coverage. Therefore topics such as sports allow for children to be shown in a diverse and positive way.

“Sports should be represented more in the media because this topic gives children the opportunity to be represented more in a positive light” – Anonymous child, Media Monitor

The child media monitors4 were also pleased with the way Thulani reported the story.

“I would like to say well done to the journalist because he wrote a nice story by not violating any rights and I am happy that he put the story on a front page. The journalist did a very good job and I think it’s just took the rights words and the right journalist for it to be a good story. Good job and keep writing good articles.”

MMA commends Sowetan and journalist, Thulani Mbele for this empowering coverage of a child. We hope to see more of such stories in future.

By Kgalalelo Morwe Gaebee

1. On a weekly basis, MMA highlights cases of good practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as instances where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”
2. Children often feature in negative stories. According to MMA’s 2014 report findings children were mostly featured in child abuse, crime, disaster/violence and justice system stories.
3. According to MMA’s report findings, Sports was the least covered topic. Only 1% of stories monitored were about Sport.
4. As part of its Empowering Children and the Media Strategy, Parkhurst Primary school participates in MMA’s Make Abuse Disappear Online Accountability Tool (MAD OAT) where learners aged between 12 and 14 are taught media literacy and media monitoring skills

In response to the commentary, Sowetan’s journalist, Thulani Mbele said:

“Thank you for responding to the article “Pupil beat cancer to blow whistle”

Fezile is an inspiring young man with a very positive outlook to life, dispite the challenges he has faced. When alot of young people have succumb to drug and substance abuse, he sets himself apart as a shining example.

When i first met Fezile, i could not believe he was only 15 years old because he spoke with such confidence and authority way beyond his age. I was truly inspired to see such a young man commanding in the field of play and doing very well in it.

Young people can a leaf out of Fezile’s life and be motivated to do something worthwhile with their lives dispite their background.

Im therefore excited and thankful that this article was selected for the GLAD”